Do you have concerns for how to prepare for lambing? Especially if you’re ewes are bred for winter lambing?
How to prepare for lambing during Winter is the topic of this post. And I’m here to tell you that as long as you’re prepared, you have nothing to worry about.
Because this guide will help you to become more prepared for lambing. No matter what breed or type of sheep you raise, you’ll learn how to prepare for lambing is pretty much similar across breeds and types. But there may be some differences, which is why a mentor is very helpful in learning how to prepare for lambing.
So, let’s jump right in with the steps. First of all, let me tell you about the breed of sheep I raise.
My Family Raises Hair Sheep
And they are known as “easy care hair sheep.” A three way cross (Katahdin, Romanov & White Dorper) that combines the best qualities of each breed. Although they have been pretty low maintenance and “easy” to raise, we still take the necessary precautions.
We focus on low inputs to make a profit. Our lambs graze with their mom’s all summer long because we have found that the grass raised ewe lambs have performed BETTER than their brothers that we have fed grain through the summer for fall market. This does make the management “easier” when we provide plenty of pasture for them.
But, we don’t take the word “easy” lightly. Our policy is to ALWAYS be proactive and take all precautions to prevent diseases and outbreaks from happening. We also strive to make sure our sheep are handled with care and receive excellent nutrition at different points of the year.
And preparing for lambing season is no different. We begin with the best nutrition we can offer them while they are using energy to grow lambs and make milk for them.
Why We Raise Hair Sheep
We began raising hair sheep for several reasons:
- No shearing. Hair sheep shed on their own.
- Market. We have markets all around us to sell lambs and make a profit.
- Pasture Management. Grazing sheep with goats and cattle (a.k.a multispecies grazing) will help clean up & manage pastures.
You see, sheep consume weeds first, then grass. So, by putting sheep in the pasture, they can mechanically control the weeds in the pasture. We don’t have to spray our pastures, which cuts out that cost in our livestock operation budget.
So, with any species of livestock raised, it’s important to know that nutrition is the #1 part. Therefore, we always make sure that our sheep have plenty of good quality forage and extra energy when the weather turns cold.
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So, our sheep are primarily grass fed most of the year. Except when they are heavy bred and starting to lactate. The first lesson of “how to prepare for lambing” requires that the producer make sure the sheep have excellent nutrition. Especially during a cold winter.
Because the ewes are expending more of their energy, they will need extra protein. More than what our grass hay can offer them. So, we give them a ration of our grain mixture from our local coop. Here’s what our mix contains:
- Corn (For Extra Energy)
- Soybean Meal (The Protein)
- Oats (For Lactation)
- Molasses (To Sweeten it up).
The local nutritionist at our feed mill developed this ration and mixed it for us. We feed this ration to all of our livestock during the cold winter months. It’s safe for sheep – There’s no copper.
Minerals are provided free-choice through a loose mineral. Here’s the mineral we prefer. And it’s vital that the producer offers a loose mineral to a pregnant ewe with developing lambs.
The other way sheep can stay warm through the winter is with the right facilities. Prepare those facilities for lambing. How?
Sheep stay pretty warm through the winter months without shelter. Even if you provide your ewes with shelter, you can still find them outside enjoying the crisp winter air. In fact, our ewes are in a pen without a barn until a couple of weeks before lambing starts.
But, new baby lambs need a warm place when they are born. And their moms know that.
So, it’s important to provide some facilities with pens available to move them into just in case. If a ewe has multiple lambs, it might be necessary to pen them up together for a few days. Build some small pens where the family can bond together.
Here are some bedding options for those facilities.
There are a few options for bedding. My number one recommendation for bedding during the winter is good old fluffy straw. You can purchase straw by the small square bale, small round or large round.
The second option is old second year hay you aren’t going to feed. Yes, they will eat some, but they eat straw, too. Sheep are very curious creatures. It’s not enough to worry about if you see them eating it.
You could also use wood chips or shavings. I know many sheep producers who use this option. There are a few cons to this method:
- The wood sticks to the wet kids.
- It’s not as warm as fluffy straw or hay.
- It gets EVERYWHERE!
So, I avoid using wood chips and just stick to straw first and old hay second. If you don’t raise your own and are looking to buy, here are some options for you.
How to Find Bedding to Buy
There are many places to find straw and hay to buy. All you have to do is look around. Here are some places that we have found straw and hay to purchase in the past years:
- Your Local Wheat Farmers
- Local Craig’s List
- Sale Barn
- Social Media Buy/Sell/Trade pages
- A sign next to the property
- Farmer’s Markets
Check out the quality of the bedding before you buy it. This is to ensure happiness with it. Since it’s just for bedding, it’s not a huge deal to me. But, you still want clean bedding that’s not molded or full of animal droppings. Yuck.
Finally, if you must absolutely use wood chips…Just look at a farm store. You’ll find it there. And you’re probably wanting to go to the farm store for your prenatal and lambing supplies.
Many sheep producers work their ewes a month before lambing. Meaning, they give the lambs prenatal care.
Prenatal care is important to us, too. We gently run the ewes through a small working chute. There’s two shots we give them if we think they are a month from kidding:
- CD-T (2 cc for clostridial disease and tetanus)
- LA-200 (2 cc to prevent abortion-causing bacterial infection)
We also record tag numbers and replace ear tags if needed. Finally, we observe the ewes’ udders to see if they are developing. If they are, we consider them to be a month or two away from lambing.
And that helps us transition with the next section. It’s so important to learn how to observe the ewe’s final trimester development and pre-labor signs.
Learn Observation & Signs of Lambing
If you’re new to lambing, you’ll want to learn the signs of pregnancy development and pre-labor. Here are some ways you can learn how to observe and learn the signs:
- Lambing Web Sites
- Lambing Courses
- Your Mentor
- Your Veterinarian
And many more. Doesn’t matter how you learn it. But, you need to learn what your ewe is going to look like. Here are a few signs you look for when you know your ewe is near the end of her pregnancy:
- A developed and strutted udder.
- Loose tail ligaments
- Baby lambs have “dropped” lower into the belly.
Also, it helps to have an idea of when the lambs are due to arrive. A ewe’s gestation period is around 145 days. This begins during the summer at breeding, where I watch the ewes with the ram. Then, I record the breeding date into my iPhone App ‘Birth Planner.’ The ewe is automatically assigned a lambing due date that goes onto our lambing calendar.
Fast forward (roughly) 145 days later. The day is here. Here are some pre-labor signs to look for:
- Tail Ligaments Gone
- Udder is full and tight.
- You’ll see a stream of fluid (looks like snot) hanging from a swelled vulva area.
Keep watching and you’ll soon see your ewe giving birth to baby or babies. And you’ll want to have that kit ready to go.
Prepare Your Lambing Kit
Have those lambing supplies ready before lambing starts. When you learn the signs, you can guestimate and watch the ewes. But, you still want to have the following supplies ready.
- Digital Thermometer
- Hair Dryer
- Iodine for Naval Dipping
- Milk Replacer
- Lamb Nutridrench
- Tube & Tube Feeder
- Your Vet On Call Just In Case
Most of these items, you won’t have to use all the time. The iodine should be used to dip the navals on every lamb. This helps to prevent bacterial problems in the naval and joint ill.
However, these are items that will keep through the season that you could need at a moment’s notice. You just never know when the labor will take a turn for the worst.
Take One Ewe At A Time
With that said, try not to get frustrated during lambing season. Take one ewe at a time. Understand that you don’t have to assist with every labor.
In fact, you shouldn’t. Leave those lambing ewes alone, but watch them from a distance. Understand the time factor here. Labor needs to take it’s time. Plus, there are three stages of labor that can take quite a while. Pre-labor can last for days. Don’t get discouraged. Just be patient.
Labor is heavy pushing. When you see a ewe heavy pushing, that’s when you need to keep track of time. An hour or two (It’s been said to be more) is usually all it takes to pop out a lamb. Trust your gut.
My gut always tells me to watch for an hour of heavy pushing. If nothing is happening, I glove up and go in to check the ewe. And if positioning is not right, I call for further help.
Have Your Mentor On Call
No matter if you’re new or old to raising sheep, you need a mentor. A mentor is someone with more experience than you who can help you learn the process. They can also help you when times get tough.
Your mentor should be local. Within a couple of hours if possible.
But your mentor could also be far away. Just be aware that some methods could differ depending on location. And that is why you should consult a local vet as well.
Your Vet Should Be On Call, Too
With that said, your vet should be even more local. Now more than ever thanks to the Veterinary Feed Directive. But for many reasons, every livestock producer should have a veterinary-patient-relationship before even getting their first animals.
There should be a recommended veterinarian in your county or in the county next to you. But, I understand that some rural areas don’t have the luxury of a veterinarian.
If you don’t have a vet near you, have the state veterinarian on call. Most states have a state veterinarian located through the Veterinary School or Land Grant University. Know who that person is and get in touch with them.
Always know that you have access to resources. Knowing what the right resources are can help you to have a more successful lambing season. A mentor and/or veterinarian relationship is so important to acquire in the process of learning how to prepare for lambing season.
Understand: The Third Stage of Labor is Important
The release of the placenta is the third stage of labor. Always watch closely and make sure it has been expelled. The expelling of the placenta can happen within 24 hours after the kids are born.
Certain behaviors and practices are very helpful to helping the placenta release:
- Bonding with the lambs
- Lambs nursing mom
- Good nutrition
I have found ewes to have less trouble with this third stage of labor than goats. But, you still need to know what to look for during this last stage:
- The ewe will continue to push carefully.
- You’ll see the placenta sac on the ground. I can be discarded.
- If the ewe continues to push and there is no placenta after 24 hours, vet care may be needed.
Understanding this last stage is the best postnatal care you can give to your ewes. And it’s tragic when the lambs pop out healthy, but then the ewe has trouble afterwards.
Knowing how to prepare for lambing and all that comes with it will help you to enjoy lambing season a lot more.
Enjoy Lambing Season!
Although any situation can happen, it’s always best to know how to prepare for lambing. And I know these tips will help you to know how to prepare for lambing whether you’ve been raising sheep for one year or 20.
But the one tip I haven’t mentioned yet is this one. ENJOY the lambing season. Enjoy learning how to prepare for lambing season. And enjoy watching your ewes give birth to cute little lambs.
The best way to enjoy lambing season is to be prepared for the worst. Learn how to prepare for lambing season during winter. And if you are prepared, you will be ready for anything that can happen.